CITIZENS International strongly condemns the arrest and detention of the journalist-publisher Julian Assange by the British government on a request by the United States to extradite him to face criminal charges. We urge the British authorities not to extradite him to the US and to set him free.
Assange has committed no crime by revealing to the public the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the US government in Iraq and other countries.
These abuses had been kept secret until they were revealed by US soldier whistleblower Chelsea Manning who was convicted and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment at a maximum-security prison.
Assange had been given asylum by the previous Ecuadorean government but it was withdrawn by the present government under pressure from the US in breach of the norms of international law.
This is a dangerous precedent for those seeking political asylum in other countries from oppressive governments and rulers.
Assange’s indictment is unprecedented and the first one of a journalist, editor and publisher. The charge against him carries a sentence of only a few years but, going by the practice of the US criminal justice system, more charges will be piled upon him later.
In the case of the Pentagon Papers, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was initially charged with three felony counts but it was later expanded to 12 counts which carried a possible sentence of 125 years imprisonment.
Thus, Assange faces the prospect of spending the remaining years of his life in a US prison unless public pressure stops the British government from handing him over to the US.
One of the charges against Assange is that he encouraged Manning to give him more documents after she had given him hundreds of thousands of files.
This charge strikes at the heart of independent investigative journalism. Any investigative journalist worthy of the name will need to request documents to ensure that what she is writing is fair, accurate and based on credible facts.
Seeking documents to establish truth becomes a crime in the eyes of the US.
Commenting on this charge, Ellsberg said: “But in this case, if that’s all it takes, then no journalist is safe. The freedom of the press is not safe. It’s over. And I think our republic is in its last days, because unauthorised disclosures of this kind are the lifeblood of a republic”.
We call on journalists, civil society organisations, democratic governments and the UN Human Rights Council to urge the British government not to extradite Assange to the US and to release him at once.
S.M. Mohamed Idris